Paypal Cuts Off Soulseek Again. EFF Blasts the Move

Online service Soulseek is once again scrambling to find out why Paypal has cut them off. EFF Is voicing concern about the move.

For fans of online service Soulseek, the thought possibly crossing some of their minds these days might be, “Not again.”

Soulseek staff revealed recently that PayPal has cut them off again. In a response to a posting on their Forum dated back in February, staff responded to a question about why it is suddenly no longer possible to donate through that payment method:

Unfortunately PayPal cut us off again. This happened two years ago, but thanks to the EFF they eventually lifted the ban. We’re not sure why it’s happening again, but we’re looking into it. We’re also looking for other potential payment methods. At this point in time, Stripe is the only available donation option.Stripe is every bit as safe and reliable as PayPal, but we apologize for the inconvenience if PayPal is your only option.

Now, fans of Soulseek might recall when PayPal cut off the service in 2015. At the time, the electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) intervened in the case to determine why the service was cut off. Essentially, PayPal finally coughed up the explanation that because it is a filesharing service, they needed to be pre-approved by PayPal. In the process, funds were frozen and service ceased. The decision to freeze the account was reversed and payment processes finally resumed.

Now, two years later, it seems that Soulseek finds itself in a very similar situation. Again, funds are frozen, payments are no longer being processed, and no explanation is given. This in spite of the fact that the development of the platform itself is perfectly legal. Soulseek’s familiar ally in such matters is once again speaking out, saying that following the law should be enough to continue doing business with third parties. Here’s what the EFF has to say:

What the Arbels are experiencing is a form of financial censorship that has, unfortunately, become increasingly widespread. Following the law isn’t enough—PayPal apparently expects a small message board service with a file-sharing function to do far more than the law requires.

PayPal explained to us that they will cut off sites that “allow for the transfer or download of copyrighted material.” Taken literally, that’s a staggeringly broad claim. Most written, visual, and audio material posted on the Internet is “copyrighted material,” because copyright doesn’t require any registration or notice, nor any commercial value.

Assuming PayPal means commercial entertainment copied without permission, it still doesn’t explain what got Soulseek in trouble. The site’s “Rules” section makes it crystal clear that the site doesn’t “endorse or condone” the sharing of copyrighted materials without permission, and mandates that users should only share files that they are legally allowed to share. The site hosts no files itself. It complies with the DMCA Section 512 safe harbor by accepting infringement notices and taking down content. The Arbels are fastidious about following the rules—they even have a copyright lawyer on retainer.

We asked if there was a particular copyright complaint that led to Soulseek getting cut off, but PayPal wouldn’t give us details on that. Major media and entertainment companies have tried for years to change copyright law, to require online intermediaries like PayPal to surveil Internet users and police copyright in draconian fashion. PayPal’s banning of services they deem to be “file-sharing” causes the same problems that Congress has, so far, avoided.

If payment processors were to cut off Internet services simply because they could be used for copyright infringement, a huge swath of the web would lose the ability to accept payments. Allowing sharing between users is a common and popular feature of many cloud storage services, including those run by Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox. As a matter of policy, Soulseek respects its users’ privacy by not surveilling their conversations or file exchanges. Violating users’ privacy shouldn’t be the price of entry for using a payment processor. It would be absurd to suggest that using a payment processor requires sites to police their own users for copyright infringement, when copyright law doesn’t impose any such requirement.

Obviously, this latest move does reopen old wounds for PayPal. PayPal has had a reputation in the past of cutting both individuals and organizations with little transparency. As such, a number of people have looked to the service with skepticism. Some even move to other forms of payment online to avoid what they feel is arbitrary decisions. In recent memory, we’re becoming less aware of incidences like this. Now with this latest move, many people are remembering some of the moves the service has done that they don’t agree with.

We’ve looked around for any updates to the situation, but it looks like the service is still gone for Soulseek. We’ll update you if we become aware of anything changing.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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